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Making Difference in Medieval and Early Modern Iberia.

Making Difference in Medieval and Early Modern Iberia. By Jean Dangler. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005. Pp. vii, 218. $27.00.)

In some respects, historians should approach this book with an open eye. One is not venturing into the familiar world of historical references (e.g., law codes, institutional documents, personal diaries or letters, etc.) but of literary erudition coupled with the significance of multifaceted subjects and their contrasting nuances. From this perspective Jean Dangler has attempted to enlighten the reader to a further understanding of medieval Iberia's "Golden Age" of toleration and how that era evolved into one of intolerance. Her initial premise is based on two studies: the earlier work of renowned Spanish historian Americo Castro, The Spaniards: An Introduction to Their History, and the more recent The Ornament of the World, by Maria Rosa Menocal. Both scholars promoted the concept that medieval Iberia experienced a remarkable age of illumination during which three distinct religious and ethnic groups--Muslims, Jews, and Christians--coexisted in relative harmony. What was forged was an age that Castro called convivencia, whereas Dangler affirms, "Iberian cohabitation is particularly evident in Muslim-dominated al-Andalus, where cultural organization often revealed the integration of difference."

It is within this framework that one can begin to grasp the full meaning of Dangler's thesis concerning "making difference." Using literary sources, in particular four discourses (i.e., two types of lyric poems, medical concepts of the body, and discourses on the monster), Dangler attempts to analyze the concept of "difference" or "alterity" as well as otherness, which she argues is manifested in these various discourses in respect to the many aspects of their subject formation and the author's embracing of contrasts and the negative. She contends that medieval Iberia and its sense of commingling and the intermeshing of the three cultures provided the enlightened milieu that produced such divergent discourses, while the homogeneity of the early modern era and its demands of religious uniformity and social hierarchism diluted and transformed the extraordinary medieval sense of alterity.

Indeed Dangler's elucidation and scholarship is unquestionable. Nevertheless, when she deals with the historical references concerning the medieval and early modern era, her verbiage is misleading. Early on in the text she refers to the Visigoths and the Romans as the "indigenous Iberians," which they were not. Like the Berbers and Arabs, they too were conquerors of Iberia. Second, Dangler persistently refers to the fifteenth-century kingdom of Castile as the Castilian nation-state. Though Castile had achieved a natural hegemony over the other Iberian kingdoms in this time frame, it was not a nation-state in the modern sense but was eventually incorporated into the Spanish nation-state. These misinterpretations may easily have been avoided had she examined more fully the works of such renowned historians of medieval Spain as Bernard Reilly and Joseph E O'Callaghan. Yet overall this is an intriguing and enticing study of medieval and early modern Iberia, one that suggests to all Western European historians that there is more below the Pyrenees that needs to be uncovered and studied.

Paulette L. Pepin

University of New Haven
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Author:Pepin, Paulette L.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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